Travel chaos predicted for London hauliers after Hammersmith flyover closure

The Freight Transport Association (FTA)  has predicted travel misery in London over the festive period, after the closure of the Hammersmith flyover due to a serious structural defect.

Transport for London (TfL) has closed the A4 flyover after its inspection programme found a serious problem with the 1960s structure.

It will not open until at least early January, and an FTA spokesman predicted “a major headache” for hauliers operating in and around London as a consequence.

Garrett Emmerson, TfL’s chief operating officer for surface transport, says: "Safety is our top priority, so we have taken the decision to keep the flyover closed until at least early January while we undertake a full detailed assessment of the structure. 

“We are very sorry for the disruption this will cause drivers and we are doing everything we can to minimise traffic disruption. We will be working around the clock over the Christmas and New Year period to complete our assessment and to set out plans for the work that needs to take place.”

Running trucks longer ahead of Euro-6

Over the past two years we’ve written scores of stories about Euro-6 and there is a common undercurrent in all of them: cost. Namely trucks that will be more expensive to buy up-front, heavier, more complex to maintain, and likely to be less fuel-efficient than the Euro-5 trucks they will supersede.

Euro-6 becomes mandatory for new registrations on 31 December 2013, and while that might still be two years away, ask yourself this: when are you planning to replace your current trucks? If your answer is anything from that date onwards, you’d better think again; it’s probably best to sell within the next two years and buy Euro-5, either new or nearly new, and run for five, six or even seven years.

With this conundrum in mind, we brought together – with the help of Exxon Mobil – a handful of truck operators and a couple of technical specialists to discuss the merits of running trucks for longer. On the face of it, running trucks longer is nothing new; over to Steve Davis, the award-wining national engineering manager at TNT Express Services: “If I go back to when I started, you ran a truck until it dropped and then you scrapped it.” He adds with a laugh: “Although
hopefully you’d anticipate that!”

But over the years, “the way the marketing machines of the truck manufacturers have worked meant you were replacing trucks sooner rather than later. The reality is that trucks are so well built these days that they’re quite capable of running on longer” , he says.

Still in service Matthew Kibble, owner and director of former Motor Transport Haulier of the Year Matthew Kibble Transport, echoes Davis’s thoughts, highlighting his 11-yearold Volvo FH: “It was 12 months old when I bought it; it was the first truck I bought – and it’s still in service today. It’s a bloody good vehicle and it’s got 1.4 million on the clock – it’s still going strong. I spent £5,000 on an engine rebuild three years ago. If you buy the right vehicle at the outset, they’re good for 10 years – Volvo, Scania. I’ve got some DAFs, but I wouldn’t say they were 10-year vehicles.”

Ian Gilbert is general manager of Pullman Fleet Services, Wincanton’s servicing arm, and he backs up Kibble and Davis: “A lot of our customers are looking to
run vehicles on longer. As a maintenance contractor, we’re looking at what we can offer our customers – better maintenance packages to run them longer for example, so looking at six or seven years, but excluding some of the major items [engines, gearboxes, etc].

“We’re also looking at doing healthchecks on vehicles, so when they get to five years old, we start improving the maintenance cycle, for example, looking at oil sampling to give us a bit more in-depth knowledge than you can pick up on a routine service.”

Davis takes a similarly matter-of-fact approach to longer-life trucks, noting that the planned maintenance inspections regime is strictly adhered to. He says: “We’re now running our trucks for longer and we haven’t seen a deterioration in reliability in those trucks.

Vehicle rotation
“However, we’ve definitely suffered a slight fuel economy reduction: an older vehicle uses more fuel than a newer one. But we rotate vehicles on our hub-and-spoke system: the newer vehicles run on the longer spokes. Typically, a newer truck might do 20,000 to 30,000 more miles a year than an older one. If
a vehicle becomes uneconomical, we dispose of it and rent [if it’s not the right time to buy].

“Certainly I’m quite comfortable with pushing out to six years on the linehaul fleet because it’s relatively easy trunking, it’s not hard on components. I don’t see pushing out another year as a great problem.”

Gilbert agrees: “As long as they’re maintained right, there’s no issue.” But he notes that Wincanton’s petro-chem trucks do 200,000km a year and with that mileage, they are not suitable for a longer life. As Kibble said earlier, if you buy the right vehicle at the outset, running longer becomes an easier task, and
former Daimler chief engineer and now engine consultant Michael Schittler advises truck buyers to ask what oils (both for the engine and the drivetrain) are specified on the production line.

“It’s not unknown for less sophisticated oils to be used, so it might be worth asking your dealer to drain this and specify something better/more fuel-efficient upon delivery.”

Best way forward
Steve Crawley, CV lubricants manager at Exxon Mobil, notes how important the choice of oil can be: “The latest technology for synthetic engine oils, such as
Mobil Delvac 1 5W/30 is perfectly capable of meeting Euro-5 and Euro-6 specs.

“The best way forward for operators is to specify a low SAPS [sulphated ash, phosphorus, sulphur] oil that can also offer fuel economy benefits; we’re running fuel economy trials with some fleets at the moment to demonstrate the benefits of low friction, fully synthetic oils.”

His colleague Neil Briffett, global CV lubricants technical advisor, adds that while operators are catching on to this message about engine oils, more efficient drivetrain oils are being ignored. “The latter is a missed opportunity for a lot of fleets; they’re focused on the fuel economy benefits they can
derive from driver training, tyre pressures, etc, but they’re missing the opportunities of using fully synthetic in the gearbox and the final drive as well,” he says.

Additional benefits
Furthermore, it’s taken a long time for the theory of the total cost of ownership to take root in many operators’ minds, and Crawley’s experience reinforces this: “We’ve developed a total cost of ownership tool to allow our distributors and our sales people to demonstrate to the operator the fuel saving that can be
derived [from fully synthetic oils]. And don’t forget the additional benefits of extended oil drains and reduced costs of waste oil disposal.

“Operators wanting to run their trucks for longer, and therefore requiring longer engine life must see the use of fully synthetic oil as an investment – not a cost.”

Davis agrees: “A lot of operators view oil as a cost, but it’s not; when I started we were changing oil at 60,000km, and now we change at 120,000km, but oil hasn’t doubled in price.”

A different experience

As something of a deliberate curve-ball, we threw a coach operator into the mix: Mark Jordan, the engineering director responsible for Lucketts Travel’s 98 vehicles and three depots. Jordan reveals: “The coach business has a bit of technology lag behind the haulage industry – we’re predominantly a Scania operator and we’ve only just seen Euro-5 arrive on our fleet in the last 12 months.”

Lucketts used to have a policy of running a coach for 10 years, but now that is closer to 14 years. “The difference for us [compared with hauliers] is that we can get three or four different cycles of work out of the vehicles,” he explains. “They come in at the top and they do a lot of European tour work, and then we cascade them down into other operations: regional and London work, and then on to the school fleet.”

His main concern for a long-life vehicle is not the engine, it’s interior refurbishment and bodywork repairs due to corrosion.

Whose oil is it anyway?

Do you know what oil is in your trucks? If you’re carrying out your own maintenance, then clearly the answer must be yes, but if you’re not…

“To be honest, I wouldn’t have a clue what oil goes in my trucks – everything is dealer-maintained,” admits Kibble. The other operators round the table are the opposite to him; for example, Davis says: “Because we run a mixed fleet, I look for oils that allow me to have the fewest number of grades; that’s my focus rather than price per litre. We try to find a happy medium that will suit as much of the fleet as possible.”

Pullman’s Gilbert notes: “If you went by the manufacturers’ spec, you’d have a whole workshop full of different oils [for different marques]; the truth is, you get a good oil and it will work in all of them.”

Jordan reveals: “Our drivers are still responsible for checking their oil and water levels, and to make sure the driver is putting the right type of oil in the right vehicle [given such a wide spread of engines – Euro-3 to Euro-5] is a nightmare. We’re looking at educating drivers at the moment. Clearly it’s easier in the workshop to ensure this is done correctly: oil A goes into coach B.”

Exxon Mobil’s Crawley highlights the mismatch between an operator’s criteria for an oil and a workshop’s: “In all fairness, in many cases franchised dealers and independent workshops aren’t focused on their customers’ fuel economy – they are focused on their own costs. The challenge we are faced with is trying to clearly convey the message to fleet operators that they need to put pressure on the workshops to have them put in a fuel-efficient, fully synthetic engine oil.”

Preparing for Euro-6

It’s no surprise that of those around the table, TNT is by far the most advanced in its preparation for Euro-6: it will start field trials in the first quarter of 2012 with a pair of Euro-5 trucks converted by the manufacturer to Euro-6. This pair will have to be models with automated manual transmissions as the additional cooling required by a Euro-6 engine will mean the gearshift is moved from the floor to the dash.

Davis notes: “There is some concern about vehicles costing more, but I think it’s fair to say that when the market settles will the stated on-costs materialise?
Euro-5 wasn’t as bad as expected, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same with Euro-6.”

Of course, refleeting is a financial matter and the residual values of the vehicles to be disposed of have to be factored into the total cost equation. Kibble highlights a recent experience: “During the recession, I had three Volvos for sale and somebody offered me £28,000 for the three, and I said I’d rather stand them in the yard and throw bricks at them. I kept them and put them back on the road; I’ve just sold two of them for £31,000.”

Kibble plans to buy Euro-5 trucks outright in the near future because he feels there isn’t enough flexibility for him on buybacks; he fears it will cost him too uch
to take on the vehicle at the end of the contract if he wants to run it on in order to avoid the switch to Euro-6 too early. Schittler concurs and advises operators to buy the most up to date trucks they can in the next two years, and run them for as long as they can “as this will give you the lowest cost of ownership”.